When is a Scrum Master (or a PM) Not?

I’ve been busy the last few weeks (as you can tell by the paucity of posts :-). I’ve been working with project managers, Scrum Masters, and technical leads who have been thrust into the role of Scrum Master.

Here are some examples of the problems these nice folks have had:

  • “When I want to use timeboxes to focus the attention of the project team on the project, my boss won’t let me.” — a Project Manager
  • “Our Product Owner can’t decide on a backlog before the sprint starts. How can we possibly commit to anything?” — a Scrum Master
  • “Our Product Owner thinks that reviewing the backlog and have a demo and retrospective every 4 weeks is too frequent, so our sprints are now 8 weeks.” — technical lead working as a Scrum Master

None of these folks are really acting as a project manager, whether that PM is called a PM or a Scrum Master. The PM’s role is to steer the project to “done,” and that means choosing and following through on the actions required to get to done. A PM makes the choices and acts on them–or the PM is not effective. A Scrum Master is supposed to protect the process. Anyone working as a Scrum Master who’s not protecting the process is not effective in that role.

Think about your recent actions. Are they helping the project, irrespective of the project’s organization? If not, you’re not effective as a PM.

Effective PMs control their project’s process. Do that, and you’ll be an effective PM or Scrum Master, or whatever your organization calls you. Don’t control the project’s process and the project and organization will control you.

5 Replies to “When is a Scrum Master (or a PM) Not?”

  1. I’m wary of “Effective PMs control the project’s process” as I would expect the people actually doing the work to control their own process. I’d expect effective PMs/Scrum Masters/whatever to facilitate, engage, influence, etc. so that this can happen.

  2. I agree with Johanna. PMs have to be the guardians of the PM process they want to use. Project stakeholders that pretend to work on the team should accept to control their own actions within the process proposed and negotiated with the PM. You ask someone to facilitate a Scrum, you should trust him/her with the process and not try to denature it because it is new to you. Pms are not only facilitarors, thay also have to show the way, project-process wise

  3. Process, process, process.

    What about people? At the end of the day the process is just one of several enabers (alongside culture, technology and tools, etc.)

    Won’t an experienced and talented team just deliver regardless of the process? ANd doesn’t that indicate that the process is relatively unimportant?

  4. @ Craig:
    “Won’t an experienced and talented team just deliver regardless of the process?”

    In what I have seen in my own experience… Not all the time! They have to follow ‘some’ process and they may pull it off, somehow, but the effort would have been so much easier if everyone followed the same set of rules/guidelines/framework, whatever.

    “ANd doesn’t that indicate that the process is relatively unimportant?”

    Process is only as important as much it helps you to deliver. So, I would say that I disagree with your conclusion.

    Now, if you are talking about a process that exists just for the sake of process and not helping in delivering value… then you have a point.

  5. Scrum is a tool to achieve an objective… far too often, scrum becomes the objective and that misses the point completely. Scrum aids in focusing the team and a Scrum Master enables the team to focus. If that means chasing down information, doing more traditional PM duties, then the SM should do that. Bottom line, the SM enables the team to deliver the most value and achieve the highest velocity and does so using Scrum as a tool.

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